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Indian Maritime Day: How Women Proved Mettle in India's Maritime Heritage & Naval Forces

© Photo : @indiannavy/TwitterIndian Navy's warships INS Tir, INS Sujata, INS Sudarshini, and ICGS Sarathi visited Phuket to carry out maneuvers at the sea with the Royal Thai Navy.
Indian Navy's warships INS Tir, INS Sujata, INS Sudarshini, and ICGS Sarathi visited Phuket to carry out maneuvers at the sea with the Royal Thai Navy. - Sputnik India, 1920, 05.04.2024
In the vast expanse of India's maritime history, a tale often overlooked emerges – a narrative of women who have left their mark on the annals of the sea. As National Maritime Day dawns upon the nation, it presents an opportune moment to cast light upon the remarkable imprint these women have left on India's maritime legacy.
Amid the rolling waves of India's maritime history, there's a tale often whispered, but seldom amplified – the story of women who have etched their names alongside the legends of the sea. As the nation commemorates National Maritime Day, it's time to shine a beacon on these unsung heroes and their indelible contributions to India’s Maritime History.
In the annals of modern history, the establishment of the Indian Navy heralded a new chapter – a chapter where men donned their naval whites and sailed into the unknown. Yet, amid the salty spray and billowing sails, women also found their calling.
One such echo resonates profoundly in the tale of Navika Sagar Parikrama – a daring expedition that captured the nation's imagination and redefined the role of women in the Indian Navy. Led by an all-women crew of six on board the INSV Tarini, this historic circumnavigation voyage shattered stereotypes and kindled a flame of inspiration in the hearts of millions.

A Sailor's Journey: From Doubt to Determination

“When the opportunity for ocean sailing arose from Cape Town to Rio Race, initially, it was merely a chance to travel abroad and interact with people from other countries. Once aboard, I found myself overwhelmed with discomfort and regret, regretting my decision to sail. The experience proved traumatic, leading me to swear off sailing upon our return to India”, Lieutenant Commander Swathi P (retd.) told Sputnik India.
Following this, Swathi pointed out that “no one dared to sign up for the subsequent Navika Sagar Parikrama expedition. Eventually, after much contemplation, two of us mustered the courage to give sailing another try, albeit with a newfound sense of caution”.
“Following my first appointment, I had the opportunity to participate in Navy sailing championships, further immersing myself in the world of sailing. It was during a voyage to Port Blair in November 2014, accompanied by three fellow officers, that I experienced ocean sailing for the first time," Lieutenant Commander Pratibha Jamwal (retd.) told Sputnik India.
The challenges Pratibha faced during this voyage, according to her, "left me convinced that I wouldn't undertake such a journey again – it was far more demanding than I had anticipated. Despite this, my fascination with ocean sailing persisted, and when the opportunity arose for volunteers, I found myself unable to resist".

Indian Ingenuity at Sea: A Journey of Boat-Building and Circumnavigation

Under the guidance of India's first solo circumnavigator, Captain Dilip Donde, according to Pratibha “the team underwent comprehensive training for 2.5 years. The majority of this training involved hands-on experience aboard the INSV Mhadei, later transitioning to the INSV Tarini. Throughout this period, we covered roughly 50,000 nautical miles at sea”.
“We experienced a raw side of nature that was both captivating and daunting. Whether it was encountering vast schools of dolphins, orcas, and sperm whales, witnessing snowfall at sea, marvelling at bioluminescence, or being awestruck by the spectacle of the southern lights to enduring a hurricane-force storm for prolonged, sleepless nights added a sense of intensity and unpredictability to our journey”, Pratibha noted.
"My first circumnavigation was on a boat built in India. This underscores our capacity to construct vessels capable of sustaining themselves non-stop for five months at sea. With an Indian participant securing second place in a global circumnavigation race, it has sparked interest in India", Commander Abhilash Tomy (retd.) told Sputnik India.
This achievement, according to Tomy, "has likely spurred a growing demand for yachts, with more people embarking on sailing adventures in the region. It's a testament to the impact of significant voyages on shaping maritime ambitions”.

Breaking Barriers: Expanding Opportunities for Women in the Navy

"The Navy has significantly expanded opportunities for women, erasing previous gender distinctions. Previously, certain roles like fighter pilots and executive duties were restricted for women, confining them to ground duties while men had broader responsibilities", Swathi noted.
However, Swathi highlighted that “this has changed drastically – Women now enjoy equal access to opportunities, signalling the Navy's progressive stance and recognition of women's capabilities. This shift reflects societal evolution and the Navy's commitment to equality. Witnessing these changes fills me with pride, seeing the Navy embrace diversity and inclusivity”.
"Reflecting on our sailing experiences and expedition preparations, we encountered a shortage of female leaders for guidance and support within the Navy. However, since completing our expedition, notable changes have unfolded. Women can now pursue permanent commissions, offering them a pathway to long-term Navy careers", Lieutenant Commander B Aishwarya told Sputnik India.
Previously, Aishwarya stated that “this opportunity was confined to select branches such as medical and legal, but it has since expanded to include technical fields. This expansion has provided aspiring female recruits with crucial role models to follow. With eligibility to command warships and receive vessel postings, women now stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts”.
“This shift sets a positive example for gender equality across professions, marking significant progress. Furthermore, outdated notions regarding women's suitability for maritime roles have largely dissipated, opening up promising career prospects for women in the Navy and the maritime industry as a whole”, Aishwarya underscored.
FILE- INS Chennai, a Kolkata class destroyer, is moored at a jetty  in Mumbai, India, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.  - Sputnik India, 1920, 08.03.2024
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